Sunday, April 15, 2018

Make Love, Not War! … But How?

As the drums of war beat louder through the staged fogs of information and disinformation overload, it has never been more important to learn how not to get lost in the mist. However, as we all know, the steep learning curve that is Becoming Love is the harder path. Our immaturity as individuals, even at the apparently innocuous level of personal preference, can and does scale up to the global, sometimes to world war. Big things have little beginnings. We all have a role to play, a contribution to make.

Our immaturities are interconnected fissures that open wider and wider as fear spreads. The energies and impulses that emanate from these growing holes are fearful, suspicious, angry, bigoted and, above all, easily manipulated. Drastic action quickly becomes the only ‘reasonable’ course, while patience and compassion as informed by open-minded skepticism are branded foul poisons to be violently ejected from public discourse.

If we do want to avoid war and make love, we must first grow up; that is, become capable of love-based responses in all circumstances. But how? In addressing this question, this article is necessarily meandering and long. I humbly submit that a careful reading of its content is worth the effort.

I haven’t wanted to write since I last posted here. There are two main reasons. First, I don’t like to prescribe and no longer believe in ‘solutions’, though this sensibility was increasingly apparent in my later posts. Second, I determined that my views are so far from the mainstream and so convoluted as to be nigh on incomprehensible. Recent experience has changed me deeply on both counts.

The first reason is something of an extreme position, since it paints you into a tight corner: say nothing lest you influence someone for the worse. Well, we cannot help but influence others. So, if I feel I have something to share that may be of value to someone somewhere, I should share it. It suffices to remind readers that my writing is never a prescription, only a contribution.

The second is slightly more slippery. Here, it has become clear to me that the defining core of what I am trying to learn and become – my path – is in fact universal, not idiosyncratic: love. I don’t mean romantic love, I don’t mean enabling, indecisive, cowardly relativism, I mean love. 

Love is unconditional. If it isn’t unconditional, it isn’t love. When you think that through, it’s not at all romantic or idealistic. It is profoundly challenging and exquisitely beautiful. 

Everything I wrote for this site was driven by that pivotal concern, though in an immature-cerebral way: how to improve the system so as to minimise injustice and maximise sustainability. My error – if that is what it was – was to pontificate on upper-level details, somewhat in the fashion of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is a cliche by now but none the less important to repeat: what is first required is a revolution of consciousness. For me this means a far wiser understanding of and relationship with love. Emerging from that will come whatever comes, not what I or anyone else supposes ought to come.

What, then, is unconditional love? This is a big question. I suspect there is no larger or more important challenge to How We Are than learning about love. It has been a central focus of mine for around twenty years and, in time-honoured fashion, the more I learn the less I know.  So apart from asserting that love is not a distinct, unchanging object but an evolving, emergent quality of consciousness, there will be no detailed answer here. I submit only tantalising implications you may derive from reading between my lines. 

“How We Are”? Yes. Being, or How We Are, is what counts. This simply coined formulation is a rephrase of what I have garnered from the work of Tom Campbell, whose efforts have influenced me profoundly these last few years. In brief, where we are in terms of our personal growth and evolution is not indicated by what we can argue or define or postulate, it’s what we are from root to tip.

Thus, love has little to do with surface politeness but plenty to do with authenticity. In other words, if you are polished at keeping your anger, envy, fear, etc. hidden from your and others’ view, you may well be thought of as nice, but that repression is a process that accumulates psychological, physical and emotional debt that can come due in a wide variety of ways and at compound interest: cancer, divorce, and career self-destruction to name but a few familiar manifestations.

If we are to take on the challenge of becoming love, should we then reveal all that we secretly feel as immediately and authentically as possible? Scream our uglinesses into people’s faces? I suppose you could. That might prove to be a fast-track, bridge-burning route IF the driving reason for doing so is the steady maturation of the quality of your consciousness towards love. A less turbulent way would be the quiet process of being very aware of your acts of repression as you go about your life, noting them in some way, and figuring out each of their causes. Then you would deal with those causes as creatively and lastingly as you can. This takes time and is hardly the fiery stuff of legend. It is the famous Path Less Travelled and is hard, long, and often (apparently) thankless. However, if you do it right, rewards in terms of improvements to your total health (see below) turn up pretty quickly and cumulatively. Doing it right thus includes noticing and valuing these improvements (aka gratitude), which in turn requires being less influenced by society’s definitions of success and failure and more in tune with your own: those that align most deeply with health.

(A quick note on health: I mean here the dynamically interoperating totality of your physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, relationship (with Other, including the environment), career and financial health over time. For me, health is functionally synonymous with wealth.)

Which brings us neatly to how little I know. I’m one of those who can talk the talk but not walk the walk (a sub-reason for why I stopped writing). I suppress how I feel like a champion, at least in terms of my felt experience of that repression; my brooding sullenness when things aren’t to my liking is in fact very plain to all who know me. I’m a control freak, a tyrannical utopian quickly disappointed and irritated by everyday imperfections that ‘come at me’ from my environment, be they family members, friends, or Berlin winters. And, because I can talk the talk, have been going through (disclosure alert!) a kundalini awakening for about four years and counting, and have also been the dumbstruck recipient of several physical miracles, I deceived myself that I was Doing Pretty Well Thank You Very Much in the Unconditional Love department. Not so. Self-deception is another of my advanced abilities. It goes hand in glove with talking the talk as magnified by all my hard-earned rhetorical skills.

By way of illustration and disclosure, I want to share one complex manifestation of a central problem of mine, then flesh out how my oh-so brilliant mind endlessly wrestles with it.

As I write, my mother-in-law is happily chatting with a friend of hers over FaceTime. Both their voices have qualities of tone and tenor that can, in certain circumstances, set me on edge*. These remind me of their shared culture, one that is to me compulsively extraverted, habitually and aggressively generous and naïvely happy. It is the least philosophical and most uncritically accepting culture I know of, one that appears to have drunk down, hook, line and sinker, the worst of the West in terms of Disney-like moralising; 1950s Hollywood ideas of masculinity and femininity; endless property accumulation; and an oily, meat-based diet. I write all this not because I am convinced of the rightness of my perceptions (far from it), but because I don’t like, respect or trust what that culture represents: a happy-go-lucky, non-skeptical, conservative take on reality that would appear to be my nemesis. I am mystified by its members and am also at the tail end of having spent about three months living among them**. 

Compounding this cultural clash between my British understatement and their South East Asian theatricality is my veganism. I’ve been vegan since October 2012 and believe deeply in its moral philosophy. Briefly, it is clear humans can be perfectly healthy on a whole-food vegan diet. Thus, killing and harming animals is a choice that necessitates a victim, not a survival need. So why be cruel to others if we don’t have to be? For me, this is a clear extension of unconditional love. Love is not just about other humans, it’s about Other in its entirety. It’s about existence itself. Yes, death is a part of life, but unnecessary killing is unnecessary killing. Neither harm nor kill if you don’t have to.

This line of thinking appears to be anathema to my wife’s family, and much of my own. Their blank-faced reactions say, “Huh? They’re just animals!”

This double-whammy clash creates in-group out-group tensions that are threatening to split our families. I am at a loss as to how to handle this tension. I do not want to enable continuing cruelty to animals and harm to the environment by being polite, by respecting people’s differences, by holding my tongue. On the other hand, I do want to respect people’s differences because I know, deeply, that we evolve at our own speeds. Grass doesn’t grow faster if you shout at it. And what if I’m being morally superior for some utopian reason? Is my thinking on this flawed? Are all the facts in and sound? Sadly, balanced discussion is impossible due to the culture clash. One simply does not argue with one’s elders. Doing so causes extraordinary emotional turmoil. I know this because I speak from bitter experience. And when things explode, I explode too. I’m as emotionally invested in my position as my wife’s family is in theirs. 

In other words, in my local experience, little differences of perception lead to ‘war’.

This brings us to a central and difficult distinction: love is unearned by virtue of its being unconditional, but like, respect and trust are earned, conditional. If your child is a compulsive liar, you love but don’t trust it. Unconditional versus conditional. In the nitty-gritty of day-to-day living, are like, respect and trust therefore more important/relevant in bringing about a Better World than the noble love I set my sights on years since? Or do they play a distant second fiddle to love as you increasingly become love? I have no answer, but here are some initial thoughts on this baffling issue.

It is wrong to think in terms of perfection and imperfection as they pertain to like, trust and respect in our day-to-day lives, but extremely easy to do so. What counts by way of an indicator of where you are at is the quality of your life. If you are miserable and hate getting up in the morning, why? If you are quick to anger and judgment, why? 

When undertaking these sorts of introspective journeys, what cannot help in a lasting way is blaming Other: meticulously determining how you are the victim, or right on all counts, and then playing that role. We ought instead to focus on what is lastingly effective, not on manipulating and correcting Self and Other until they are ‘perfect’. And there are no quick fixes. If your life is royally fucked up, it will take lots of time to heal, to make the internal changes that are required to make the subsequent and coincident external changes both appropriate and lasting (i.e., effective).

You can ‘escape’ your problems temporarily by intellectualising and rationalising, but reality will expose your shallowness soon enough. “Talk the talk” is a pejorative for a reason. This applies to laws and treaties too. Both are band aids across complex psychological wounds.

Making best efforts to like, respect and trust that which you do not like, respect and trust won’t work. It’s like trying to like badly played music or enjoy the taste of something that makes you retch. I tried this for years in my personal and professional lives and failed. The results have just come in and make for sobering reading. It was an act of self-deception that eased day-to-day interactions, nothing more.

Isolation from the not-liked is no solution. If you have carefully populated your world with people of like mind and find things pretty easy, you are probably untested. Put yourself among people who wind you up – an out-group from your perspective –, for weeks on end, and watch what happens to your equilibrium. Many are confronted with this tension day in and day out. They often resort to harmful behaviours to relieve that tension. As this dynamic develops between large groups – say between West and East –, injustice and war can become the norm. The challenge, surely, is how to communicate effectively with an alien Other. But how? By winning the argument? By winning the battle and thereby demonstrating your superiority? Survival of the fittest?

That line of thinking is part of reality for all sorts of reasons, but can be further qualified, couched in different terms, because it too is a set of evolving qualities of consciousness.

For example, what is injustice and exactly how are we obligated to battle it? Is it true that the only thing we can change is ourselves? If so, do evolved souls leave others well alone to figure it out by themselves? I repeat, what is injustice? Does injustice occur because each of us is unjust? Would that not make injustice the just outcome of a multitude of unjust individuals? Or is it caused by some distinct, separate Evil that must be battled and subjugated, forced to be more like the victorious in-group? I suspect the amount of injustice ‘out there’ is a direct reflection of the sum of the quality of our individual states of consciousness, though this posture leads us to some very unpalatable moral postures (see below). If I’m close to the ‘truth’ here, there’s virtually no point fighting injustice as a separate object in the pursuit of a Better World. That’s like fighting gravity or any emergent property. To repeat a phrase I’ve used at this blog ad nauseam, We Are The System. It changes cumulatively as each of us changes individually.

But isn’t The System controlled by an elite whose overriding objective is to keep that unjust system functioning? Doesn’t that elite use all manner of tricks and deceptions to keep us in the dark? Yes, to the degree that this cliche is an accurate caricature, that is so.  That said, no one is claiming that changing yourself is easy. However, The System would not work if none of The System’s constituents wanted it and were truly ready, willing and able to birth something different. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We do what we can, yes, but high-falutin’ meddling is a fool’s mission. Grass doesn’t grow faster if you shout at it, or if you cleverly reason with it. Love the grass, on the other hand…

Learning how to not even want to exogenously change the other person or group is a direction of growth that takes a long time to mature and is very much a part of love due to love’s unconditionality. This path has nothing to do with perfection and imperfection. It’s about the gradual evolution and maturation of your own consciousness as evidenced by the quality of your inner life regardless of its outer context. Saying “Nobody’s perfect” is missing the point. Perfection is a red herring in the same way that there are no endings or beginnings.

Let’s briefly reference that insoluble horror known as Israel/Palestine. Which side is victim and which aggressor depends on whom you ask. I have my own views that I will not share here, but what strikes me as unavoidable is that there will be no ‘solution’ in a world so ready to dehumanise the out-group, whose people are so manipulatable and judgemental, so gullible and immature. The Israel-Palestine problem is in and thus a reflection of the world, not separate from it as some alien and incomprehensible oddity. It is our mirror, as is everything else. Humanity can only evolve beyond that reflection of its maturity and love when it is ready, willing and able to do so. How and if we can get there is unclear to me. Nevertheless, leaving it be feels horrific, just as it feels horrific to me to not be a vegan activist, to not stand up in defence of voiceless animals. Israel/Palestine needs help. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, fish … need help. But does a moral obligation to help make the horrors resolvable absent a revolution of consciousness? History suggests not. The horrors continue despite best efforts to change all those alien others.

It appears to me that like, respect and trust are sibling rivers that may (or may not) transition into the ocean of unconditional love. Without conscious awareness of that ocean, absent a desire to partake of it as a way of being, those rivers lead to tribalism. Healthily managing all the issues that arise from the conditionality of like, respect and trust requires a quality of consciousness characterised by love. And each of us has to want this and do the work that keeps us on that endlessly evolving vector for healthy, mature outcomes to be the more likely.

How then do we interact with alien Others without becoming murderous, without dehumanising them? How do we humbly learn from those who horrify us while not enabling further injustice in so doing? How do we “celebrate diversity” when that diversity starts meddling with our own or requires victims? Ah, there’s the devil’s details! 

My take is that love is not a mission and does not have fixed, pre-determined outcomes it pursues with grim resolution. “Let it be”, says one song. “If you love someone, set them free”, says another. My sense of all this is that the ‘problem’ I am outlining here is in fact a natural reflection of immaturity generally, of my own particularly. It causes me pain to say this, even makes me feel guilty. A healthy or love-based approach cannot be about controlling all variables towards perfection, but about letting things be, as guided by love, over time. 

Until we need them no longer, we need rules from The System, ‘imperfect’ rules that lock up some but not others, that protect some species, not others. How many rules we need and how effective they are will always be a reflection of how mature we are in sum. Accepting this is part of the sorrow of celebrating diversity, i.e., celebrating those we do not like, respect and trust, including the so-called elites and our imperfect system. Its what we would want for ourselves as we seek to grow and evolve: freedom. It sounds like a monstrous, privileged copout, but love slowly helps to soothe the monstrous as we each mature in our own ways. Awareness of these interdependent and unpalatable truths is thus key, as is a willingness to develop our own understandings of and relationship with love.

In the meantime, we do what we can. We contribute as positively as we can to the whole. We invite others into better states of being via their own narratives and abilities. I write. I am vegan and argue for it when I can. I work hard for my family and live as mindfully as I am able. I want others to grow too, to ‘wake up’, but there I can only invite and encourage, not force. After all, I might be wrong on many things. Sometimes, even well-meaning encouragement causes upset, stress and tension, and at times can end friendships and split families.

Deeper still, there is, I feel, something a touch callous or coldly pragmatic about what I argue is a fundamental requirement for diversity of maturity as a generator of unpredictable situations that are challenging and thus learning opportunities. For example: 

We need challenges to overcome if we are to evolve. 

Without challenges, we stagnate (I include God in “we”). 

We will therefore always ‘need’ diversity of maturity. 

I suspect this logically derived assertion is a reflection of an unavoidable property of the nature of reality. What I do not argue for here, however, is nihilism, though in its depths I think this logic profoundly blurs the useful – to us immature humans – distinction between selfishness (immaturity) and selflessness (maturity). In other words, we choose love as a quality/direction of becoming simply because it is healthy, rather than somehow noble or ‘godly’, to do so. Our inescapable interconnectedness makes this choice the healthier, forever and always: as you do unto others, so you do unto yourself. 

It is endless evolution – constant change – that makes reality worth living. This means reality is a living process, not lifeless machinery. That process has to be unpredictable and uncontrollable to be worth a damn. It has to be free to evolve in its own way and at its own speed. One corollary of this might be that reality will always include suffering somehow. It is utopian to think otherwise. 

The so-called ‘selfishness’ that leads us all, via our own suffering that one day becomes unbearable, to finally choose love as the direction of our becoming, is the seed of the so-called ‘selflessness’ that is the hallmark of love. Through love’s lens, Self and Other blur, are experienced as One. Fear holds them separate, protects one at the expense of the other but harms both in net effect. As felt love begins to blur these once useful distinctions, a quality of consciousness develops in us that can deal increasingly healthily with those irreducible issues of like, respect and trust that represent but one fertile set of challenges along the way.

At my current level of maturity, writing this riles me, makes me want to scream a rejection of all its implications. As a congenital utopian (perfectionist?), I want to actively prevent harm where I can. Witnessing injustice hurts. But it has been made plain to me, repeatedly, that striving to create a ‘perfect’ world requires me to exogenously change others. This is a flat impossibility and I just don’t have the right to manipulate people’s vectors of growth, even if there are victims at the other end of their choices. 

I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. This is five parts beauty, five parts sorrow.

* I should point out that I suffer from misophonia, and am therefore unusually over-sensitive to a wide range of sounds.

** This depiction of my relationship with the culture in question is not as nuanced as it might be. It reflects, honestly though simplistically, an emotional state that arose in a particular set of circumstances and stresses. Each prior visit provoked a very different reaction from me, far more positive.

No comments: